Wednesday, September 23, 2009

missed it the first time: DMZ by Brian Wood & Riccardo Burchielli

DMZ: On the Ground
by Brian Wood and Riccardo Burchielli
Vertigo, 2006

Let's admit it right here and now: once we let go of the prejudices of graphic novels, the hope that they promise for literature is boundless. They can and will send literature in a million new directions. I've been pumped to read stuff like Blankets, Maus and most recently, A.D. New Orleans After The Deluge.

It takes a different talent for sure, and some of the story-telling ability has fallen behind the quality of art, but the two are coming closer and closer, as more writers team up with more artists to create a fully realized vision. We shouldn't worry about what will be "lost" with this, only excited at the possibilities. What we come up as a literary society will run the gamut from magazine-style novels to wordless books, all accepted under capital-L Literature (or let's hope so at least. Heaven knows we don't need to keep splitting up English departments).

That's a weighty intro for DMZ, but fitting. Because Brian Wood is one of the most intelligent writers working today, and all he works in is primarily the comics medium. Surely this man, with his creative scenes and serialized storytelling could find a TV or movie deal (he probably has one and I just don't know...).

With DMZ, Wood did some of the art as well, but is the primary story creator. And what I like from Wood in DMZ and his more recent Local series, is how he is able to innovate grand settings and schemes, and boil all of those down into interesting chunks. The big picture narrative with DMZ is that the U.S. is at war again, split apart by its own militaristic factions and Manhattan has become the DMZ, a no man's land of with its own rules and customs, controlled by no one and populated by ex-pats from both sides from the warring Free States and the United States.

Great circumstances, cue main character. Now this took some critical maneuvering. They had to find a way to explore this scene in a fairly easy fashion, while also allowing for some explication just to marvel at the world that Wood dreamed up. So they place a photojournalist intern, Matthew Roth, into the mix and stick him in the middle of the DMZ when his ride out leaves him behind. Yes, the details and circumstances for how Roth got there are not fully explained or plausible, but it makes as much sense as any action movie.

In Volume 1: On The Ground, Roth just gets a feel for the land while Wood weaves in all this post-apocalyptic urban survival techniques, such as mentions about how to grow sustainable food, reusable energy and the glories of bamboo. There are also some shocking New York City scenes, like a barren Central Park--stripped of all its timber and used for firewood.

DMZ introduces all of these concepts in its fictional world, because Roth is the reader's proxy--he's learning for the job and we're learning for fun.

But like a television show (or more like a comic book), DMZ creates vignettes that then make a larger whole of Roth's new found world--one where personal relationships are so vital, but can be so easily crossed just for survival as well.

There's a big sticker on the spine of my used library copy that reads "YA," but this is just as well-crafted as any Clive Cussler tale, with a more imaginative landscape and grittier features.

With graphic novels, us old-school lit types have to rewire our brains on how to read. Usually, I rush through the text in the whole book and then later pick up bits and pieces of the story as I flip back through, looking at the art. This is where the details are of course, and offers two possible readings then--one solely centered on plot action and another centered on the effects and imagery that make a story like this so rich.

Roth at one point has to face small children that have burns and cuts from a bomb meant for him--he's unscathed, but they are battered and bruised up. The emotional resonance of this doesn't settle during a quick skim of the dialogue, but only after when the full weight of the story is understood.

I don't know the end of DMZ, only this beginning, but call me intrigued or don't call me at all. The world of the DMZ fits perfectly into the nation's current (and 2006) mindset and is executed at the perfect pitch relative to the medium (unlike say, the similarly themed TV show Jericho). DMZ is now like this classic gift that I get to unwrap when the rest of the world has already discovered it and moved on, and I'm excited to finally get to know the secrets that they already hold. But let's not keep Brian Wood a secret.

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